GOP Candidate’s Staffer Has a Murder-for-Hire Past

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty
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Arizona Republican governor candidate Kari Lake has made her support for law enforcement a centerpiece of her campaign—but her campaign also employs an interesting character: a convicted criminal who pleaded guilty to battery against a peace officer and who once plotted to kill an FBI informant.

The staffer, Kenneth Ulibarri, previously campaigned with Lake, Salon reported in February. But his official status with the campaign was not known until now. Ulibarri confirmed in a Tuesday phone call with The Daily Beast that the Lake campaign had hired him to manage its “Latino Engagement” efforts.

A man who answered at the phone number listed on Ulibarri’s official campaign ID badge said he was Kenneth Ulibarri and confirmed, only speaking in Spanish, that he handled Latino Engagement for the Lake campaign. They had hired him for that job “several months ago,” he said, then hung up.

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While Ulibarri told The Daily Beast he didn’t speak English well, that isn’t true. He was featured at Lake’s first campaign rally last July, where he joked that his accent came from the land of his birth—“the liberal cesspool of New Mexico.”

He then denounced in that speech “liberal policies that are destroying our country,” including mask mandates, critical race theory, and a college education where kids “come back with purple hair and gay.”

“This country is headed down a dark path, and it’s up to us to stand up and get it on the right path,” Ulibarri told the crowd, invoking his story as a drug addict turned small business owner and youth advocate as a lesson in the power of religious redemption. Lake stands for “everything that I hold near and dear to my heart,” he said.

The Lake campaign did not reply to a request for comment.

The Salon report laid out Ulibarri’s violent criminal history, including targeting law enforcement, which The Daily Beast has independently confirmed through state and federal court records.

According to a superseding federal indictment, the Justice Department alleged in 2014 that Ulibarri had “attempted to kill” an FBI informant to stop the informant from testifying at a cocaine distribution and money laundering trial. Ulibarri later admitted in a plea agreement that he had in fact told an undercover FBI informant—while trying to sell him heroin—that Ulibarri knew that the first informant was working for the feds and that he and others “were hiring a hitman to kill” him, for $20,000.

Ulibarri claimed in his agreement that he had not been serious about the murder plot, but was only using it to try to get more money out of his supposed heroin client.

“In May 2014, I met with a confidential source (CHS1) to discuss selling heroin to CHS1. In those meetings, I told CHS1 that I and some others were hiring a hitman to kill another confidential source (CHS2) for $20,000,” Ulibarri wrote in his agreement, noting that “CHS2” was a “testifying cooperator” in the trial.

He added that he told the first informant that, if he wanted to chip in to the effort, he could pay off some of the money “after the hit.” At the direction of FBI agents, the informant then paid Ulibarri $1,000 and told him “it was CHS1’s contribution towards the hitman,” promising to “pay the remaining amount later on,” Ulibarri wrote in the agreement.

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Although Ulibarri claimed he wasn’t serious about the murder plot, DOJ prosecutors pointed out in a filing that he had met with CHS1 “on numerous occasions over two weeks,” during which he talked “repeatedly about his murder-for-hire plan.”

Of all the details the two men discussed, prosecutors said, “the one that stands out the most” was that Ulibarri was “totally fine” with taking just $1,000 up front, with the remaining $4,000 coming on the other side of the hit, writing, “we are left with the defendant’s chilling assurances that CHS-1 could just settle up his tab after the murder.”

(Ulibarri’s brother came to his defense in the case, telling prosecutors that “he did not think that his brother is smart enough to organize a hitman.”)

Ultimately, Ulibarri pleaded to obstruction of justice and a heroin distribution charge in the case, and was sentenced to time served and three years supervised release, according to federal court records.

It wasn’t Ulibarri’s first brush with law enforcement, and wouldn’t be his last.

In 2019, Ulibarri pleaded guilty to a charge of battery upon a peace officer, according to court records with the state of New Mexico. That charge was first brought in Sept. 2014—the same month that DOJ alleged Ulibarri had “attempted to murder” the informant.

Back in 2006, cops in New Mexico scooped Ulibarri on a felony drug warrant while he was hanging out with an associate of a man wanted for the murder of a Bernalillo County sheriff, according to a KRQE news report at the time. Other state court records show that he was convicted in 2014 for driving under the influence two years prior, and in 2002 he was sentenced to six years for multiple charges related to vehicle theft and criminal damage. (In 1999, while in jail on those charges, Ulibarri beat another inmate, sending him to the hospital, the Albuquerque Journal reported.)

New Mexico court records also show that between 2002 and 2013, Ulibarri was hit with a string of charges including battery on a peace officer, evidence tampering, and controlled substance violations, all of which prosecutors later dropped, though the publicly available filings do not explain why.

While Ulibarri’s official status with the Lake campaign was previously unknown, he had appeared on Lake’s 2021 annual campaign finance filing, receiving a payment of $2,000, Salon reported, and has made a number of appearances on the trail.

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The Lake campaign has since changed its accounting method and no longer discloses the names of individual employees.

Still, Lake—who is most notorious for her wild, baseless claims about election fraud, and her defense of former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed her candidacy—has made her full-throated defense of law enforcement a hallmark of her campaign.

But Sarah Robinson, communications director for Lake’s Democratic opponent, Arizona secretary of state, told The Daily Beast in a statement that voters “simply cannot trust” Lake to protect them.

“Kari Lake has shown us over and over again that she will side with those who wish to harm and defund our brave law enforcement officers. Arizonans simply cannot trust Kari Lake to protect us and our families,” Robinson said.

Hobbs herself might need some of that protection. As secretary of state, she has experienced death threats amid the false claims of fraud about the 2020 election that right-wing figures like Trump and Lake have propagated.

And death threats have also surged against the FBI itself in the wake of the court-approved search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort compound. The day after the search, Lake went on an unhinged Twitter rant, declaring it “one of the darkest days in American history: the day our Government, originally created by the people, turned against us. This illegitimate, corrupt Regime hates America and has weaponized the entirety of the Federal Government to take down President Donald Trump.”

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She averred that she would “fight these Tyrants with every fiber of my being,” adding that “If they can target a former President, they can (and will) target you.”

“Not a single one of us is safe,” she said.

Lake, for her part, has appeared at “back the blue” rallies and vows that she will increase police funding. Her campaign website claims there is “a direct correlation” between the “insidious” so-called defund-the-police movement “and the explosion of violent crime happening across the country.”

“I won’t give an inch to people who want to tear down law enforcement for their own benefit,” Lake’s site adds.

“Arizona’s next governor must #BackTheBlue,” the webpage says. “They put their lives on the line for us, making sure they know how much we honor and respect that commitment is the least we can do.”

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